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November 23, 2017

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Clark County mulls control board to keep marijuana businesses in line

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Gosia Wozniacka / AP

A marijuana dispensary displays a sign Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, in Portland, Ore. Nevada lawmakers modeled the state’s “early start” recreational marijuana program after Oregon’s. Permanent provisions won’t be established until it expires Jan. 1, but the Clark County Commission is already discussing local rules that will align.

Clark County commissioners want strict rules in place for any marijuana businesses found breaking its local laws.

Dispensaries and cultivation facilities operate under business licenses and special-use permits granted by the county. That means the commissioners, who also meet as the Zoning Board, already have the ability to hold a public hearing and revoke said licenses and permits, effectively shutting down a business in violation. Before that extreme course of action happens, the business license, zoning and air quality departments routinely investigate complaints lodged against businesses to ensure they are in compliance with codes.

Some commissioners don’t think that’s enough.

Arguing that the emerging marijuana industry demands more oversight than your run-of-the-mill business, Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick on Tuesday floated the idea of creating a marijuana control board similar to the Gaming Control Board or Liquor Control Board.

“This (industry) is changing every single day,” she said. “Nobody knows who regulates what.”

Kirkpatrick referenced a commercial she saw recently for a “weed party bus,” saying she didn't know the legality of such an operation or what recourses would be available. This is not the first time such confusion has occurred. At a previous meeting, commissioners had a lengthy discussion with staff regarding whether a reoccurring weed yoga event was in violation of local law. (That particular establishment ended up not being in the county’s jurisdiction.)

A weed control board could oversee regulations and the fines and fees associated with breaking them within the county, Kirkpatrick said. It also could keep track of the overlapping guidelines from different levels of government.

Chairman Steve Sisolak agreed with the idea of a board to help with disciplinary issues. He has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with what he sees as “slaps on the wrist” for businesses skirting the law or trying to push the boundaries of what is permissible in terms of events and promotion.

“We are the gold standard for gaming, and I want to be the gold standard in the cannabis industry,” he has said previously.

On June 21, just before recreational marijuana sales began, DigiPath Labs was brought before the Zoning Board for sending out an email promoting a third-party event that paired food and marijuana. (The event was later canceled.) In hopes of avoiding a public hearing and possible license revocation, the medical marijuana business volunteered its own punishment, much the way that universities do after getting into water with the NCAA.

DigiPath Labs' offer included a donation of $50,000 to a medical study on substance abuse, the creation and offering of educational lectures regarding marijuana, and the production and distribution of handbooks on recreational marijuana laws.

The commissioners accepted the recommendations and opted not to proceed with the revocation process, but several stressed that such a solution was not viable in the long term. Staff agreed that clear guidelines are needed to ensure consistent application among all businesses. They also cautioned that the recreational marijuana industry would run on temporary provisions until Jan. 1, such that waiting might be prudent in order to align with permanent ones.

Jacqueline Holloway, the county’s director of business licensing, told the commissioners on Tuesday that staff are already part of a “joint enforcement group” that includes her department, Metro and the city municipalities. That group is looking into the issue of weed party buses, among other things.

“We’re beginning to collect data and be proactive,” Holloway said.

When asked about marijuana-related arrests since recreational sales began July 1, Holloway said she only knew of one.

The commissioners took no action on creating a weed control board, but the issue of increased scrutiny of marijuana-related businesses is likely to persist.

“People need to know we’re serious,” Kirkpatrick said.

Also on Tuesday, the commissioners accepted a business impact study on a proposed ordinance to prohibit the possession or advertisement of marijuana at local airports. That ordinance is up for adoption on Aug. 1.

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